Most wonderful time of year? Not for Ravens in Pittsburgh

December 24, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all hold hands around the television and sing Christmas carols while the Ravens make like Riverdance on the fleeting playoff hopes of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Can't think of a better way to spend Christmas Eve, but I fear that the Steelers will not be in a giving mood today at Heinz Field. While everything else is decked out in red and green, they're going to send our playoff heroes home black and blue.

I wish it weren't so, but I can't let my personal feelings get in the way of an objective evaluation of a matchup that has postseason significance for both teams, but is a desperation game for the defending Super Bowl champions.

I see shades of that dismal Thursday night in Cincinnati, when the Bengals had their backs up and the Ravens had a chance to clinch the AFC North championship. The Ravens wanted to win and the Bengals needed to win. Throw in a raucous home crowd and a wet field and it wasn't pretty.

The Ravens won't be playing on short rest this time, but they'll be playing a determined team on the road, and they'll go into the game with their starting quarterback nicked up and the cornerstone of the offensive line playing on a sore toe or not playing at all. I don't care what you think of the Steelers this season, you don't want to show up in Pittsburgh short-handed.

This isn't the same Steelers team that ran the table at the end of last season, but don't be fooled into thinking it's the same team that went down so meekly at M&T Bank Stadium a few weeks ago. It's going to be a long afternoon.

Ravens at Steelers (-3): This time, it's going to be the Steelers' defense that makes the big plays on the way to a double-digit victory. Sorry, Christmas is tomorrow. Steelers.

Redskins at Rams (-1 1/2 ): I don't think I've picked the Rams right this year, so I'll pick them and hope my bad luck holds because I feel sorry for Joe Gibbs. Rams.

Bears (-5 1/2 ) at Lions: The short spread ought to tell you something. The Bears have nothing to play for and no reason to get anyone hurt, but I still think they'll get it done. Bears.

Panthers at Falcons (-6 1/2 ): Theoretically, the Panthers are still in the playoff hunt. Realistically, they're toast and they know it. Michael Vick is a little gimpy after suffering a groin strain last week, but the Falcons have every reason to win handily. Falcons.

Titans at Bills (-4 1/2 ): Doesn't there come a point when you have to recognize that the Titans can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere? It's not even going to be that cold in Buffalo. Titans.

Colts (-9) at Texans: Peyton Manning was so sharp Monday night that it's hard to imagine the Texans staying in the game. That's why this is my contrarian pick of the week. Texans.

Saints at Giants (-3): Drew Brees has been much better on the road than at home this year. In fact, all his single-game 100-plus quarterback ratings have come in hostile environments. Go figure. Saints.

Patriots at Jaguars (-3): New England is the AFC's best road team and this would be a great time to demonstrate that against a playoff-caliber opponent, but this one's too close to call so I'll take the field goal. Patriots.

Buccaneers at Browns (-3): I can honestly say I would rather watch The View. Browns.

Cardinals at 49ers (-4): Here's something you never thought you'd be hearing in Week 16: The 49ers can stay alive in the playoff hunt with a victory today. 49ers.

Chargers (-4) at Seahawks: Wouldn't be surprised if the Chargers finally hiccuped today, but I'm not getting off this horse until it bucks me. Chargers.

Bengals at Broncos (-3): Biggest game of the day when you consider that they are two of the four 8-6 wild card contenders in the AFC. The Bengals come off a Monday night game on the road to face another tough road opponent. Bad time for the schedule to turn on you. Broncos.

Eagles at Cowboys (-7): The Eagles suddenly have some mojo and a chance to play their way into a tie for first place in the NFC East. Don't think they win, but it's not out of the question. Eagles.

Jets at Dolphins (-2 1/2 ): The Jets are in the middle of the playoff hunt and the Dolphins have nothing much at stake, but the oddsmakers still are leaning toward the home team. I think they're mistaken. Jets.

Last week's sparkling 10-4 performance against the spread improved my season record to a marginally respectable 115-105-6. I also improved to 13-1 in games involving the Ravens, but I fear I'm not going to make any friends if I'm right again this week.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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